The Harper’s BAZAAR NewGen Fashion Award has been this publication’s biggest initiative in discovering and nurturing new fashion design talent since 2013. The 2022 edition saw six finalists from Singapore’s top fashion institutions compete for the grand prize of $10,000 in cash and a scholarship to further their studies at Istituto Marangoni London worth over $50,000. The winning collection will also be retailed at the brick-and-mortar Design Orchard and online at oneorchard.store.
While every iteration of NewGen has been a key moment in the local (and oftentimes, regional) fashion calendar for young designers, the most recent one was extra meaningful coming off the heels of the previous two years. The competition was put on pause in 2020 in favour of a special edition of NewGen that provided retail and editorial support for our previous winners, while in 2021, the affair was scaled down—instead of a grand finale, a series of intimate presentations were held in which contestants presented a single look that encapsulated their vision instead of a full-fledged collection. The 2022 iteration marked a return to the runway where we can fully celebrate the fruits of the designers’ seven-month NewGen journey in front of a live audience, with all the palpable energy that that entails.
The contestants this time around were equally energised. Editor-in-Chief Kenneth Goh says, “This year, the NewGen designers were very invested in making their journey with us matter in their future fashion careers. They were intent on taking away active conversations from the courses they were on by seeking advice and guidance from our mentors, and they showed a great deal of maturity. Each of them has the perseverance to get stronger and better—not just as individuals but as a collective whole.”
What the designers took away from the experience was richly varied. For some, it was the joy of collaboration or the thrill of the runway; for others, the opportunity to expand their knowledge of fashion beyond the scope of design. “Through this competition, I learned the importance of teamwork. Sharing my ideas with the mentors, and getting their feedback has made me a better designer,” says Choi Nakyeong. Faith Lois Seet expands, “As designers, we have our own ways of working but with NewGen, it’s about knowing how to work with other people. They might not think like us so we have to break down our thought processes to show them what we are trying to achieve—it’s about making our process easier to digest so that people understand the work.” Arthur Chong found himself excited about how NewGen allowed him to present his vision. He says, “Because of Covid-19, we didn’t have many chances to show our work on the runway. This was an opportunity for us to create something from scratch and have that come to life on the runway at the end.”
For Sit Shi Jie, it’s about tapping into a different side of her creative process. “The collection I created for NewGen is more commercialised. In school, we are drawn to developing our designs more conceptually and less about how it can be worn on a daily basis. This collection is easier to wear and designed to better appeal to end consumers,” she explains. Serina Lee also credited the programme for expanding her view of the industry, as did Joe Kean. “I learned the most about the business side of building a brand, particularly about social media and consumer habits in different regions. It helped me understand the need to pay attention to the graphics that consumers see first, and the need to build a community with your brand,” says Lee. Kean adds, “I studied fashion design so I’ve never really had a chance to dig deeper into aspects like marketing or visual merchandising. The advisorship programme with Chanel [a longtime NewGen partner] was especially beneficial in regards to that.”
When NewGen 2022 culminated this past November, Kean walked away with the inaugural BAZAAR Academy’s Choice Award—voted on by attendees from the first of two shows, comprised largely of members of the BAZAAR Academy (a partnership between this title and the nation’s top design schools which allow their students insider access to industry events). Kean’s collection was a study on diversity in the human form, translated into cloth. Through draping, twisting and moulding, Kean created a collection of sculptural shapes in flesh tones. “My inspiration was different body types, different skin tones, even what we think of as deformities. I wanted to show the human form can be more than what we usually see—it’s a deconstruction of the usual body shape without taking away the beauty of it.”
The grand prize was won by Serina Lee, whose collection was a serene, picturesque blend of age-old traditions and cutting-edge modernity. Her starting point was the ancient art of Chinese painting and calligraphy, though her approach was rooted in the design language of the present, and even the future—via a venture into the metaverse. “I was inspired by a Chinese poem about an inkstone—it was about how you dedicate your entire life to an artform. I’ve practised Chinese painting and calligraphy for 15 years, and I’ve always wanted to combine that with fashion. The garments are rectangular—like the shape of canvasses—so they can be hung on walls like art fixtures,” says Lee. She also translated her textile art into 3D digital graphics, which can be bought as NFTs; and then there are the digital filters that animate the physical prints when applied to the garments. “I wanted to create a world of infinite wonders with no boundaries,” says Lee of her fascination with virtual design.
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For her thoughtful, artful bridging of the old and the new, Lee was honoured with the 2022 Harper’s BAZAAR NewGen Fashion Award by a panel of judges that comprised of Goh; BAZAAR Creative Director, Windy Aulia; Vanessa Lim, General Manager of Communications at Chanel Singapore; and renowned designer, Lai Chan. As Goh puts it, “Her work is remarkable not just because it shows an evident passion for art, but also for the way it takes traditional skills like Chinese painting and calligraphy into the future. As a customer, you can purchase her NFTs or her fashion. It’s Serina’s unending quest to seek new avenues for customers to experience her work not only as garments but also as works of art that makes her a true modern thinker and a NewGen winner of the future.”
- BAZAAR NEWGEN